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How Did The Symphony Orchestra Come Into Existence And Evolve ?
   The modern day symphony orchestra ,   which resides in a concert hall all year around except for touring ,  and which plays a different program  
every week from approximately September until May or June with  a music director (its chief conductor)  and a variety of guest conductors ,  bears  

little resemblance to the  early orchestras which existed in the 18th century  when Mozart and Haydn lived  .  

    Both consist of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion , but  the orchestras of the 18th century were much smaller  ,often  consisting of  only 

about 20 to 40 musicians  , although larger ones were used on occaision  when more musicians were available .  In addition to  the strings, which 

which were fewer in number than a modern orchestra , the woodwinds usually consisted of pairs of woodwinds, flutes, oboes , and bassoons . 

The clarinet did not come into existence until relatively late in the 18th century, and Mozart was   the first major composer to use  them .

   The brass consisted of two horns and two trumpets ;   Trombones did not make their appearance in the orchestra until Beethoven's 5th

symphony in the early 19th symphony . The tuba ws not invented until well into the 19th century .

5th also .      Beethoven also introduced the piccolo and the  cavernous-sounding contrabassoon in    the 5th symphony .  

    There  were tympani , , but the only well known 18th century symphony to   use other percussion instrumentssymphony of Haydn ,  

no 100 in his catalogue of 104 !

    In the 19th century , many orchestras were ad hoc groups assembled by composers such as Mozart to perform  their music .  Others  were 

supported privately by th aristocracy for private perfornaces , such as the one  which Haydn had at his disposal as Kappelmeister(music 

director ) for the music  loving Hungarian count Eszterhazy on his remote family estate .  

    In the 19th century , some orhestras of opera companies, such as  the Vienna Court opera , now the Vienna State opera , formed  concert  

orchestras  for public concerts . The most famous of these is  the great Vienna Philharmonic, which still consists of members of the Vienna St

opera orchestra .  

   In the 19th centtury , with the advent of  great composers of the Romantic period such  as Brahms, Dvorak,  Tchaikovsky , Bruckner and 

others , the size of the orchestra grew .  Four rather than two horns became the norm,   and  the use of three or even four trumpets became

a regular  feature of the brass section .    The piccolo became more common , as well as the English horn, amd the bass clarinet was now used .  

   In addition to the usual tymapny, cymbals,  snare and bass drum and other percussion instruments were no longer rarities , and the size of 

the string section grew .  Public concerts were now the norm with a resident orchestra in a given city .

   QWith the adven of the 20th century and  great composers such as Mahler, Richard Strauss and others , normous orchestras were sometimes 

used ,  with a hundred or more musicians .  The sizze of the brass section sometimes grew to eight horns, or six, four or even more trumpets, 

dfour trombones and even two tubas , with woodwinds now quadrupled or even quintupled, and a wide variety of different percussion 

instruments, and a huge string section .  Exotic instruments such as the Heckelphone, a kind of baritone oboe even lower  in pitch than

the English horn, Wagner tubas, which had been invented by Wagner for his Ring operas  were sometimes used .  In a section of eight horns,

horns 5-8 would periodically switch to the Wagner tubas , which are a sort of cross between a tuba and a French horn .

    By the 1040s , composers such as the mystical Frenchman Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) began to use electronic instruments in the 

weird-sounding , unearthly Ondes Martenot and others .   

    Nowadays , orchestras play a wider variety of repertoire than ever before ; the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart are still very much with us ,

and orchestras sometimes perform the music of such baroque greats as Bach and Handel, although period instrument groups  seem to

be coming closer to a monopoly on this repertoire .  

    The mumber of orchestras  in Europe, America and elsewhere also increased greatly over the years  .  There are now thouands of them, not 

only in Europe and America , but all over Asia , in Japan, South Korea ,  China ,  Australia , and every continent except for Antarctica !

   The core repertoire of  belove   masterpieces by Beethoven, Schubert,Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms,  Dvorak, Tchaikovsky ,

Berlioz, Debussy, etc  is  the meat of the repertoire , but  many interesting long neglected works have been revived , and   music by such 20th

century masters as Stravinsky , Shostakovich , Prokofiev, Bartok , Copland ,  Samuel Barber , Sibelius ,  Ravel ,  and others is  quite popular .

   Despite the usual compalints , there is absolutely no lack of new or recent works  by  the likes of John Adams, Philip Glass, William Bolcom, 

Thomas Ades,  (ad-ess), Hans Werner Henze,  Peter Maxwel Davies,  Tan Dun, ( a native of china living in New York) ,  Jennifer

Higdon , Kaaia Saariaho (both women ) , and many other contemporary composers .  (Henze died a few years ago but his music is stillwidely 

played .)   

    In the course of any given season , a major orchestra  will play an enormous varitey of repertoire .  The symphony orchesta has been 

evolving for nearly 300 years , and there is no sign that is  is in any way  stagnant or  irrelevant . Who knows what the future will bring for it ?



    
Posted: Jan 29 2015, 10:18 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's Mozart's Birthday Again - Don't Take His Music For Granted !
   Today , January 27 , would have been the 259th birthday of  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , one of the greatest names in classical music .  Child prodigy ,  pianist, violinist , composer , childlike  jokester and prankster , amiable weirdo .  An incomprehensible genius  who began composing as a small boy , took  the aristocratic courts of Europe by storm , but often frustrated and disappointed  as an  adult  when he had to  earn a living as a composer and perfroming musician .  

   He was the son of Leopold Mozart  ,  a well known violinist , pedagogue , conductor and  composer in his own wright , who taught him everything he knew about music , but who was surpassed by his own son , who was born in the picturesque town of Salzburg Austria in 1756 ,which still honors its most famous native son  year round .  Mozart showed an astonishing talent as bith a composer, pianist and violinist from  childhood, and Leopold realized he had a cash cow in his on son , whom he expolited by sending him on tours all over Eurpe under his guidance . 

    When he grew up , Mozart still coveted recognition for his astonishing talents , but  was no loger a child prodigy .  He was forced to accept employment  in his home town as a composer of  sacred music for the Archbishop of Salzburg , whom he disliked , and felt confined in provincial Salzburg . But for th  last decade of his life, he moved to Vienna, musical capitol of Europe, and  was able to earn a steady living  as a freelance composer and pianist , iViennese musicians to put on concerts of his own music ,playing his many piano concertos and  his symphonies and operas .

   The story that he died a pauper, unappreciated by the cruel Viennese is an urban legend ; he actuially did very well , but  ran into serious financial difficult8ies because he enjoyed gambling and the good life .  He died in  1791 , leaving his famous Reuiem mass unfinished . It was soon completed by one of his pupils, and this version is still widely performed and recorded .  The musical world has been  speculating on what divine masterpieces he might have written if he had lived longer, but this is futile .  In his 35 years , he composed over 600 works in all musical genres :  symphonies, concertos for piano, violin, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn ;  22 operas, some of which were left in ncomplete form ;  no fewer than 27 piano concertos ,  Masses,  assorted  sacred choral works, serenades, divertimentos, etc, songs ,  string quartets, , piano sonatas, violin sonatas ,   you name it .  

   Unfortunately , many people have only a superficial familiarity with his music, knowing  a few of his most famous works ,or even just a handful of  famous melodies by him .  But you shouln't take these few works for granted  when you can hear all of them on CD . Not that you need to , because not everything by Mozart is a sublime masterpiece . He wrote some works as potboilers ; nothing wrong with this .  

    But if you don't know his music very well , you should at least familiarize yourself with his greatest operas "Don Giovanni", Le Nozze Di Figaro ,(the marriage of Figaro ), Cosi Fan Tutte (So do they all ), and Die Zauberflote , or the magic flute .  Plus his last six symphonies out of41 numbered ones, 35-41) ,  the piano concertos 20-27, violin concertos 3,4 and 5,  the four horn concertos ,  the clarinet concerto, the Requiem ,  some of his piano sonatas ,  and some of his string quartets to start .  

   The so-called "Eine Kleine Nachttmusik ", is very pleasant, but not one  of his greatest works . It doesn't mean "A little night music" in the sense of listening  to a little bit of music .  Nachtmusik means a seranade in German, and means "Night Music ". It means " A Little serenade ".  

    But you'll never regret getting to know Mozart's music better !   One note : Enjoyable as it is, the famous movie "Amadeus" plays fast and loose with the facts of Mozart's life . Don't take it too  seriously .
Posted: Jan 27 2015, 08:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Is HIP A Kind Of Musical Religion ?
   HIP stands for "Historically informed performance " , that is, using  the musical instruments of the past , or replicas of them , to perform  the music of such great composers as Bach , Handel , Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven , and now even the composers of the 19th and early 20 th century . And music of earlier composers such as Henry Purcell , Claudio Monteverdi and others , who lived before the 18th century .  

   Not only using the old instruments , but  carefully studying the differences in playing technique  style of interpretation , and dutifully following what musicologists and other scholars believe to be "  correct performance practi , that is not just playng the notes as written , but inflecting them in a style considered to be "authentic ". For example,  embellishing melodic lines with all sorts of unwritten ornaments .  Merely to play the notes as written written is to completely misunderstand the composer's intentions . This is just the tip of the iceberg  when it comes to learmnng  the ropes of  the period instrument movement .     

   A number of  composers form the past have left treatises on how they felt music should be interpreted , and these are extremely valuable .  But we still don't know exactly what the music sounded like or exactly how musicians interpreted it , or what long dead composers would or would not have approved of   when it comes to performing their music .   A time machine has yet to be invented . If only we had one !

    Among the differences between the old instruments and the familiar modern ones are the use of  strings wound from animal guts instead of the steel ones  which became standard in the 20th century .  These sound mrkedly different from steel strings . Also, string players on old instruments use little or no  vibrato , although we know that some vibrato was used in the past . Some HIP musicians and conductors have become overzealous and musically pridush and avoid vibrato altogether .

   Flutes were made out of wood , making them sound somewhat  more like recorders than the metal ones used by 20th century flutists .  They, plus the oboes, bassoons nd clarinetsw, are much simpler and have fewer  keys to press .  

    Horns and trumpets are natural, that is, lacking in valves . This means that every time you play in a different key, you have to use a different crook , or  length of tubing , to change the key in which the instrument plays .  Composers were limited in the melodic lines they could write because of this .  The tympny, or kettle drums, have  leather rather than metal  sufaces for the tympanist to strike with the mallet, making them sound somewhat different .  

    Harpsichords are more commonly used than before, as well as early pianos , which sound quite different and less   aggressive than the modern concert grand .  Orchestras and solo pperfomers an  chamber ensembles tune to a somewhat lower pitch , usually about a quarter to a half tone lower .  If you are blessed or cursed, with perfect pitch , a piece in C major may sound to you like one in B major !

   So why do I ask whther the movement ot perform music on period instruments is a kind of musical religion ?   The reason is that many HIP musicians  aare convinced that THEY are performing the music the right way , and are recreating the music exactly as it sounded in the past . Not all of them . Some have the humility to admit they can't be sure .  Some prominent  music critics and distinguished musicologists have a similar kind of arrogance .    

    Many of thes  HIP tend to look down on musicians who use modern instruments as "uninformed " about correct performance practice and   the whole HIP   movement, which is not necessarily the case .  You might look on the HIP musicians as the true believers who  think they have the  one true musical religion .  

    There are some musicians who look down on the whole HIP movement and dismiss it as nothing but musical pedantry and dismiss it as worthless .  Among these are such   world famous violinists as  Itzhak Perlman and  Pinchas Zukerman , and the late conductor Lorin Maazel ,who past away less than a year ago . You might call these the musical atheists .  

    Then there are those like myself, who find the movement very interesting  and  have liked SOME but not all  HIP performances I have heard .  WE don't know how authentic the performances are . WE are the agnostics .  

     Some of the leading  conductors of period instrument orchestras are  the Austrian Nikolaus Harnoncourt , the Englishmen Sir Roger Norrington ,  Christoher Hogwood , who also passed away last year ,  the Dutchman Frans Bruggen, , also deceased last year , , the Englishman Sir John Eliot Gardiner ,   and the Englishman Nicholas McGegan .  They also conduct prestigious mainstream modern instrument orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw orchesta   of Amsterdam ,  and others , generally trying to come as close as possible to imitating the old style of playing  as possible .  The Englishman Sir Simon Rattle, music director of the great Berlin Philharmonic , sometimes conducts period instrument orchestras .   

     Some of thes perido inswtrument orchestras have colorful names as "  Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment," the Orchestre Revolutionaire & Romantique ",   " The Academy of Ancient Music " etc . 

    There are also instrumental virtuosos of period instruments who are active  as soloists , such as violinist Andrew Manze aof England and Surch cellist Anner Bylsma , to name only a couple .  

   More recently, the HP movement has been applied to later composers such   Wagner, Berlioz, Schumann ,  Brahms ,  and even Bruckner and Mahler .  It has now moved up to Debussy, Ravel,  and Stravisnky, believe it or not !   But the later you go, the less difference there is between period and modern instruments .  

     if you're not familiar with period intruments , there are an enormous number of recordings on them by the musicians I mentioned and many others .  Listen , and decide for yourself whether you like them or not !    At least no one has ever killed other people over the kind of instruments  they use !
Posted: Jan 26 2015, 10:22 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Celebrating The 150 th Birthdays Of Two Great Scandinavian Composers - Sibelius & Nielsen .
   This year  marks the 150 th anniversity of the  the birth of two great Scandinavian composers , Jean Sibelius of Finland and Carl Nielsen of Denmark .  Sibelius is the better known of the two to the concertgoing public , but Carl Nielsen of Denmark has been  steadily gaining  more recognition  .  Nielsen died in 1931 and Sibelius in 1957 .   Both composers knew and admired each other , but their music is vastly different .  

   Jean Sibelius put the small  nation of Finland , which had long been ruled by Sweden and Russia  at different times, on the musical map , and while Nielsen was by no means the first Danish composer  to achieve some reputation in his country , he was the first truly great and original one .  Both were greatly honored in their native countries , but  Nielsen did not become  well known outside his native Denmark and Sweden   until  many years after his death .  

   The music of Sibelius, on the other hand ,  was widely performed outside of Scandinavia during his long lifetime , and his orchestral works ,including  seven symphonies, a violin concerto and assorted  highly descriptive works evoking the folklore and colorful wild landscapes of Finland , were championed by such great conductors as Serge Koussevitzky, Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli and others .  But Nielsen's quirky , strange and  highly individual music was almost totally unknown in America until Leonard Bernstein  discovered it in the 1960s while music director of the New York Philharmonic and began to perform and record it .  And since then, many other leading comductors  have perforned and recorded his music .

    Nielsen is best known for his highly original six symphonies, the delightful woodwind quintet , and his delightfully weird  his clarinet concerto ,but he aso wrote a number of  symphonic poems , concetos for violin and flute,  , various choral works , piano pieces , songs , and two operas etc .  Sibelius also wrote numerous works for piano even though he was a violinist, not a pianist . Nielsen was also a  violinist , and both composers were also active as conductors . 

    The orchestral works of Sibelius are often  brooding , mysterious and  full of  misty colors ; the music of Nielsen is robust , extroverted , muscular , filled with bright colors  and unlike the Finn , even  witty and humorous at times .  Nilesen's  music, particularly his later works , are much more harmonically adventurous  and even approach atonality at times .   

   According  to Leonard Bernstein, one characteristic of  Nielsen's music is its "total unpredictability ".  His music is always full of surprises .  For example, the two sets of battling antiphonal   tympani in the finale  of his tumultuous 4th symphony, subtitles "The Inextinguishable" ,  and the passage in the 5th symphony where the snare drummer   is instructed by the composer to imprivise his part, flailing away madly as though he had gone berserk , with no regard for what the rest of the orchestra is doing !  In the flute concerto , a bass trombone acts as a kind of heckler to the solo flute !

    Some of the most important works of Sibelius are based on the ancient epic of  pagan Finnish history the Kalevala ,   with its  gods, heroes, sorcerors and  magic spells .  The Kalevala has been translated into many different languages, including English , and is well worth reading .  These include the early choral symphony "Kullervo ",, which the composer suppressed and which was not perfomed until the 1970s, the "Four Legends from the Kalevala ", the most famous part being the haunting  "Swan of Tuonela ", with its portrayal of a swan wandering through the gloomy waters of the Finnish Hades , uding an English horn as soloist .  

    One of the last works of Sibelius is the  harrowing  Tapiola" , a  chilling description of the wild winds and storms of the Fiinnish forests . Tapio is the Finnish god of the forests .  For some reason, Sibelius  seems to have burned out as a composer for   the last 20 years of his long life ,  producing almost nothing and  destroying a number of works he had written .  There were rumors of an 8th symphony , but it was either never never completed and left in fragmentary sketches or possibly destroyed by the composer .

    Sibelius lived a rather isolated life in his  home "Ainola" , named after his wife Aino  (  pronounced I know ) , sometimes receiving visitors and listening to performances of his music over the radio .  Ainola lies not too far from the Finnish capitol Helsinki , and you can still visit it .  

   Carl Nielsen died of  a heart ailment in 1931 at the height of his powers as a composer .  But you should not miss the music of either composer .     There are numerous recordings of the symphonies and other orchestral works of these two Scandinavian giants by such great conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein , Serge Koussevitzky , Paavo Berglund, Herbert Blomstedt, Neeme Jarvi ,  and many others , and  most of the greatest violinists of the 20th century have recorded the violin concerto . 
Posted: Jan 24 2015, 03:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What's the Secret To The Amazing Longevity Of So Many Great Conductors ?
    Why is it that you can attend concerts and operas led by conductors who are still active at an age when many people are confined to nursing homes ?  The legendary maestro Leopold Stokowski (1882 - 1977 ) led his last concert at the age of 90  with the London symphony orchestra !  And after this, he continued to make recordings in his native England with a hand-picked  orchestra of some of the finest orchestral musicians in England  for a few years  until his death at the age of 95 ! 

   Other renowned conductors who remained active into their 80s include  Aeruro Toscanini (1867-1957 ) , Sir Adrian Boult (1889 -1983), Bruno Walter ( 1876-1962) . Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) , Eugene Ormandy (1899 - 1985 ) ,  Ernest Ansermet ( 1883 - 1969) , Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973) , Kand Karl Bohm (1894-1981 ).

   In recent years , Kurt Sanderling (1912 - 2011 ) , Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005 ) Sir Colin Davis ( 1927-2013), , Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) , and others have been active for a very long time .  Also Julius Rudel ,  1921-2014) , and Charles Mackerras (1925- 2010 ).   Pierre Boulez (1925-), Kurt Masur(1927- ) and Michael Gielen (1927 - ) are still alive but have retired due to declining health . 

   But Stanislaw Skrowaczewski of Poland (1923- , and Sir Neville Marriner (1924 -) are still on the podium !    Other renowned conductors who are still active in their 80s are Gennady Rozhdestvensky ,  Raymond Leppard ,  Christoph von Dohnanyi , and Herbert Blomstedt .  

   How do they manage to keep their health up at such advanced ages ?  The gestures of conducting are a kind of  aerobic exercize !   Swinging your arms  for hours on end at rehearsals and performances seems to keep your ticker healthy .  It's also very physically tiring  and puts you at risk of  ailments such as bursitis .  

    Some conductors are more strenuous and  ostentatious in their gestures than others ; Leonard Bernstein was famous , perhaps  even notorious for his apparent leaping and dancing on the podium , and   Pierre Boulez just seems to stand there passively beating time with the most sparing gestures , for example . But it all seems to keep  the body able to withstand  decades of  conducting .  

   But it seems to me that another reason for the longevity is the  the way conducting requires you to be extremely alert at all times, whether at rehearsals or performances , thus keeping the brain and mind from deteriorating . A conductor has to be extremely aware of  what the musicians ,or singers if conducting opera are doing ;  he has to correct mistakes , keep the orchestra together, make sure everybody is playing in tune , and   know how he wants the musicians to play . And anything can happen during a performance ;  opera singers can make mistakes , getting  ahead or behind the orchestra ,  and anything can go wrong no matter what you are conducting .  

    Working with the world's top orchestras and opera companies may seem like a glamorous job, but it's  a very tough life !

   
Posted: Jan 23 2015, 10:57 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Can The New York City Opera Rise From The Ashes ?
   The demise of the beloved New York City opera in late  2013 is one of the saddest stories in the recent history of classical music    It had been  founded in 1944  with the support of legendary New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia , who was a great opera fan ,  as a far less expensive alternative to the glamorous but pricey Metropolitan opera , and was billed  as  "The People's Opera ."

    From  its modest beginnings , it grew to be a fixture of the incredibly rich and diverse classical music scene in New York .  It couldn't afford to engage the most famous and glamorous opera singers of the day , or offer sumptuous sets , which were the norm at the glamorous Met, which was supported by wealthy people and corporations , but in  its own plucky way was still able to offer quality opera at prices people could afford .

    A talented and  ambitious young  Austrian musician and budding conductor by the name of Julius Rudel, who died last year at the age of 93 , went to work for the company , and eventually became its  music director and manager , worked  mightily to  attract the best singers possible .  By the mid 1060s, the company , which had its home at the City Center , which still exists , moved into what was then called   the New York State  theater in Lincoln center , next to the  Met .  

   Such legendary singers as  the late Beverly Sills ,Placido Domingo,   bass Norman Treigle and others  turmed the company into one which could offer worlf class performances , encouraged by maestro Rudel .  The Met had moved from its  old home , which was soon demolished , into the  Lincoln center the same year .  The reprtoire of the two companies was very different , all though there was some overlap .  The Met concentrated on sumptuous productions of standard repertoire operas by Verdi,Puccini, Mozart, and Wagner etc , while the NYC opera did   much more unusual repertoire, by composers ranging from the time of Handel in the early 18th century to new or recen toperas .  In recent years , the Met's repertoire has become  much more diverse and adventurous .  

     Beverly Sills and thelate bass Norman Treigle triumphed in a new production of Handel's then rarely performed "Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesr ) , before  the operas of Handel  became popular worldwide .  This was recorded for   RCA  records and is still available .  

    But unfortunately, serious pronlems  began to plague the company several years ago .  The New York state theater, which had been renamed the David H. Koch theater becuase of generous financial support by  the  now notorious Koch brothers, had to go silent for a whole season  when the theater  went through  extensive renovations to   improve its  problematic acoustics and  redesign the auditorium   No alternate venue was found  for the company to perform .  Much revenue was lost , and the company was forced to abandon the Koch theater, which is also the home of the New York City ballet .  Critics agreed that the acousitcs  were now improved , but the company was forced to  assume a nomadic  exstence, going to various theaters in New York to perform . There were fewer performances and productions per season ,  and large scale operas were out of the question .

    Ther noted Belgian  opera impresario Gerard Mortier, who died recently ,  and  who had  been the manager of several important Europran opera houses as well as the renowned Salzburg festival, was engaged to become general manager , but resigned before  taking over because he   could not get the  generous government subsidies which were taken for granted in Europe , leaving the company in  the lurch . In October 2013, the company declared bankruptcy and has yet to be revived .  

    A number of welathy individuals are currently attempting to revive the company ,  but   the situation still looks grim .  Virtually all the major European cities have two opera companies, some even three .   This is a shameful situation . New York is one of the world's foremost centers for classical music .  There are still  a number of smaller companies in New Yorkm but they are forced by finances to limit themsleves to small scale operas , some of them   quite interesting .  The Juilliard  school,  the Manhattan school of music and the Mannes college of music also offer high quality performances  with some of the most talented and promising young vocal students in the country .  The Opera orchestra of New York offers concert perfomances, that is, without sets or costumes , of operas which are rarely perfomed today .  So all is not lost .  But New York just isn't New York wityhout the NYC opera .  
Posted: Jan 22 2015, 10:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Sex , Drugs , And - Classical Music ?
   The title is correct .  There's a new video drama series  about the difficult lives of struggling  freelance  classical musicians in New York City  available from Amazon Studios called "Mozart in the Jungle "  , based   on the book of the same name by  former New York freelance  oboist Blair Tindall , who abandoned the life of a musician for journalism several years ago .  The book came out about a decade ago , and  was recently  adapted into a  video  featuring  among others , such well known actors as Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters and  even an appearance by the renowned violinist Joshua Bell .  I haven't seen the video series yet , but have read the book .

   Ms. Tindall  wrote a candid and even sordid  description of her days as a freelance musician in New York after having graduated from  music school  .  It's an  uncertain and  unpredictable way to earn a living , and while potentially  rewarding  artistically , a life which is often filled with   boredom  and frustration .  A gig playing in the pit band of a Broadway musical pays well , but  the constant repetition of the same show  week after week can be  deadly dull , and musicians often read books while not playing !   

    Ms. Tindall was able to  get work as a substitute oboist with the New York Philharmonic , but when   she auditioned for a permanent position there  , nerves caused her to lay well below her best and she did not get the job , a coommon occurrance .  She played with a wide variety of other groups in New York , but eventually , she she grew so frustrated and  tired   of performing   she switched  to journalism , and  "Mozart in the Jungle" sold unusually well for a book on classical music .  

   It was not uncommon for  freelance musicians to get gigs  for sexual favors , sometimes with conductors , who often lorded it over the musicians in rehearsals .  Drug use was rife among the freelance classical musicians , as well as promiscuous sex and even orgies !   In addition , legal drugs were often needed for the physical pains  and injuries which are  endemic  to the field of  classical musicians , rather li professional athletes ,   

   When people attend  concerts by these musicians , they generally have no idea  what a  difficult and sordid life the musicians  have .  You may enjoy sausages ,  but you don't want to see how they are made, as the saying goes !   

   
Posted: Jan 21 2015, 09:29 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The State Of Classical Music in 2015.
   Having just seen President Obama's State of the Union address ,  I would like to discuss the state of classical music in  the current year .  I am convinced that despite the many problems it faces , classical music is far from being moribund and will  continue to make the world a better place in which to live  for the   forseeable future .  It has enriched the lives of countless people all over the world for many centuries , and will continue to do so .

   Economic problems currently threaten the existence of symphony orchestras and opera companies in  America , Canada, Europe and elsewhere .  Some have gone under due to either lack of government support or faulty management ,  including the New York City Opera , Opera Bpston ,  the Green Bay symphony in Wisconsin , the Hamilton, Canada opera company , the Sacramento, California symphony and its opera company ,  La Petite Bande period instrument chamber orchestra in Belgiun ,  the London, Ontario symphony orchestra , the Brooklyn Philharmonic ,  the Napa Valley Philharmonic in California ,  several orchestras in Greece ,  and others .  

    Others , such as the Ulster orchestra in Northern Ireland,  the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester , England ,  the Stuttgart Radio orchestra and the South West German radio orchestra in Baden-Baden ,  the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands ,  the Louisville orchestra in Kentucky ,  are seriously at risk of going under .  This is by no means a complete list .  Maintaining high quality musical organizations like these is an expensive proposition , and  they are all non-profit  .   A for profit orchestra or opera company is an oxymoron !

   Still , the vast majority of the world's orchestras and   opera companies are  alive and kicking , and   overall standards of performance are higher than ever .  There are some which are actually flourishing both economically and artistically , such as  the Los Angeles Philharmonic , the San Francisco symphony and others .  

   Many  world famous classical musicians passed away in 2014 , including such eminent conductors as Claudio Abbado ,Lorin Maazel ,  Tafael Fruhbeck De Burgos , Gerd Albrecht , Jerzy Semkow and others ,  and  legendary opera singers    Carlo  Bergonzi,  Licia Albanese,  and Magda Oliviero  ,etc , but a galaxy of great musicians still exists ; conductors, opera singers, instrumentalists etc .  

    The Metropolitan opera continues to offer high definitin live broadcasts of Saturday matinee performances in movie theaters all over America , and these can also be seen in Europe .  These perfrmances also become available on DVD shortly after the performances .  The internet makes it possible for anyone anywhere to see streamed   performances by the world's greatest orchestras &  opera companies  and the world's greatest classical musicians .  

    In many ways , lovers of classical music have never had it so good  !    It's so easy to obtain  a staggerngly wide variety of classical repertoire on CD with the click of a mouse .  You can find music by virtually any classical composer , from centuries  ago to  living ones .  More classical music than you could ever imagine !    Never listen to anyone who says that classical music is dead or dying !   
Posted: Jan 20 2015, 10:34 PM by the horn | with no comments
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How To Start A Classical CD Collection - Continued .
   Some of Robert Schumann's most famous works are the piano concerto , his four symphonies ,  the piano cycle "Scenes from Chilshood ",  the song "The Two Grenadiers ", etc .  
For Felix Mendelssohn you want his symphies no 3 "Scottish ", inspired by his trip to that country ,  symphony no 4, "Italian" , inspired by a tour of Italy , his violin concerto , the symphonic poem "The Hebrides" , inspired by his trip to those remote Scottish islands . and his Biblical oratorio "Elijah ".  

   Johannes Brahms : his four symphonies, two piano concertos, violin concerto , German Requiem , based on verses from the Bible ,  
Tragic overture, Academic Festical overture ,  Quintet for strings and piano , etc .  Antonin Dvorak :  Symphony no 9, the world famous "New World symphony, , symphonies 7.8 .  Cello concerto , Slavonic Dances ,  Carneval overture ,  violin concerto .  Bedrich Smetana, also Czech ,  "The Moldau " from  his orchestral cycle "My Fatherland ".  The opera "The Bartred Bride ."  
  
   The great German composer Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949 ) lived a life which  encompassed much of both the 19th and 20 th centuries .  His symphonic poems Don Juan , Till Eulenspiegel . Also Sprach Zarathustra (made famous by  the classic film 2001 a space oddysey ) , Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleven (life of a hero ) are staples of the reprtoire .

    Belgian composer Cesar Franck : Symphony in D minor .   Hector Berlioz " Symphonie Fantastique ,  Harold in Italy , for viola and orchestra , Requiem ,  Suite from the oratorio "Romeo & Juliette ".  Roman Carneval overture .   Tchaikovsky :  symphonies 4,5,6.  Piano concerto no 1 . Violin concerto .  Romeo & Juliette, for orchestra .  The Nutcracker ballet .  1912 overture .  Capriccio Italien for orchestra .   Nikolai Rimsky -Korsakov : Scheherezade for orchestra .   Capriccio Espagnol .  Rachmaninov : Piano concertos 2,3,  symphony no 2.  

   Moving into the 20 th century , we have such great composers as Stravinsky , Bartok ,  Prokofiev, Copland,  Debussy , Ravel ,  Benjamin Britten ,  Samuel Barber, Prokofiev, Shostakovich ,   Some of the most   famous works of the 20th century are travinsky's ballet score "The Furebird", "Petrushka" and the epoch-making "Rite of Spring ", the Concerto for orchestra by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok ,  the Planets, by English composer  Gustav Holst ,  Copland's ballet scores "Billy the Kid",  :"Appalachian Spring" ,   The "Classical " and fifth symphonies of Prokofiev , his 3d piano concerto ,  the symphonies, 1,5, 7, and 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich , the "Turangalila " symphony of French composer Olivier Messiaen ,  the violin concerto of Samuel Barber  .   The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is famous for his patriotic work "Finlandia , as well as his violin concerto ,. Try his symphonies 1,2, and 5.  

    There is so much else to explore and discover in classical music .  These are just basic guidelines .   Bo doubt I've left out some  very fampous masterpieces .  A good place to  order classical CDs and DVDs is arkivmusic.com , which has a fantastically wide selection  of classical music which is just a click away .    Classicstoday .com has recommendations of recordings it considers to be outstanding  .   You'll never regret starting a classical CD collection !  Except for not being able to get everything you'd like to hear ! 
Posted: Jan 19 2015, 03:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What Basic Masterworks Do you Need To Start A Classical CD Collection ?
   It's a  long story , but I'm finally back after being unable to  post since last May .  Too long to explain here .  But everything  has been fixed  !
If you're new to classical music , you may want to start a  classical CD collection , possibly with some DVDs thrown in  to make things even more interesting .  But where do you begin ?  This can be a daunting  proposition with  the  vast  array of  different works  and all the  duplication of repertoire .  Suppose you want a recording of Beethoven's iconic fifth symphony . There may be at least  200 different reocrdings on the market ,available singly or  in sets of all nine Beethoven symphonies with  dozens of different conductors .  How do you choose among all these versions , which are almost all   coupled with another Beethoven symphony or some of   his concert  overtures etc . ?

   Furthermore , you can chose from  classic recordings made many  decades ago by such legendary conductors as Arturo Toscanini , Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bruno Walter,  Otto Klemperer, Willem Mengelberg and others , which  are not recommended if you want  great  recorded sound , or more recent ones by eminent  living conductors such as Riccardo Muti , Daniel Barenboim , David Zinman , Riccardo Chailly ,  John Eliot Gardiner and others .  You can also hear recordings made on  the so-called "authentic period instruments ", which attempt  to come as close as possible to  the way the music sounded like  in Beethoven's day , some 200 years ago , although we can never be certain about how "authentic" these performances are .  

    But here are some of the most famous and beloved masterpieces of the classical repertoire which you should have , ranging from the time of Bach and Handel  in the first half f the 18th century , although there is a lot of wonderful music  from composers who lived before them .  
For Bach , you need the six so-called "Brandenburg concertos ",  dedicated to the Markgrave of Brandenburg in northern Germany , even though he never seems to  have responded to the dedication for some reason .  Also , the monumental "Mass  in B minor", a setting of the Roman Catholic mass  despite the fact that Bach was a Lutheran .  

    You also need  a recording of  the  St. Matthew Passion ",  a setting  in German of  the final house of the life of Jesus from the New Testament .  The so-called "Goldberg variations", which can be played on either harpsichord or modern piano , was supposedly written to  help a Russian diplomat stationed in Germany with his insomnia  !   Of course, there is much more by Bach you must hear .

You need a recording of Handel's beloved oratorio "Messiah ", drawn from Bible verses about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ ,  as well as his so-called "Water Music",  a suite of orchestral music written for  a journey down the Thames by King George the first .  Being a monarch has its perks !    Handel, unlike  Bach , wrote numerous operas, the most famous being "Giulio Cesare " about  Caesar and Cleopatra in Egypt .  Bach wrote no operas at all .  

   Moving to the so-called classical period from the Baroque era in which Bach and Handel were the dominant figures ,  Joseph Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are the greatest names .   Haydn wrote no fewer than 104 symphonies, of which only a handful are perfomed with any prequency today unfortunately .  You should start with  nos 92 to the last one , 104 .  His brilliant oratorio "The Creation " is based on Genesis in the Bible .  Also try the concerto for trumpet .  

   For Mozart , you need the operas Don Giovanni (Don Juan ) Le Nozze Di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro ) , Die Zauberflote (the magic flute ) and Cosi Fan Tutte (So do they all ),  and  Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail (the abduction from the seraglio ) .  Also the symphonies 35-41 ) (for some reason there is no symphony no 37 ),   the piano concertos 20 - 27 ,  the four horn concertos, violin concertos 3,4,6 ,  the unfinished Requiem ( finished by a pupil after his death ) ,  etc.

   Beethoven, who lived from 1770 to 1827 , might be considered a transitional fuigure from the classical period to the  Romantic era of the 19th .  You need his none symphonies, the five piano concertos, the violin concerto , some of his 32 piano sonatas , the 16 string quartets ,  Fidelio , his only opera ,  the overtures "Egmont", Leonore no 3  , Coriolan   to begin with .

   Heading into the 19th century , you have such great composers as Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn , Brahms ,  Tchaikovsky , Wagner, Rossini, Verdi ,  Dvorak, Smetana ,  Chopin , Cesar Franck and others .  Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the piano, his instrument , except for two piano concertos etc . Nothing which did not feature the piano in some capacity .   You need recrodings of his Waltzes, Nocturnes, Ballades, etc . plus the two piano concertos .  Try any of his piano works .

  Franz Schubert wrote over 500 songs alone in his tragically brief  life (1797 - 1828 ).  Try his symphonies 5, 8 ( the so-called unfinished ), and the  makestic 9th ,  his string quintet in C , so so-called "Trout Quintet", whichuses a melody from his song "The trout " in one of its movements , and assorted songs .     To be continued .
Posted: Jan 19 2015, 02:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Is It Time To Rehabilitate Antonio Salieri ?

   Poor Antonio Salieri (1750- 1825 ) has gotten a bum rap in music history . For so long , he's been seen a mediocre composer with a pathological  envy of the divinely gifted Mozart , and  there have been long-standing but totally bogus rumors that he may have been guilty of causing the untimely death of his supposed rival in 1791 by  poisoning him .

   The enormous popularity of Milos Forman's  film Amadeus , which came out 30 years ago and was based on the play of the same name by Peter Schaeffer , hasn't   exactly done much for Salieri's reputation . In fact ,  the film, while  highly entertaining , makes mincemeat  of the historical facts and  also paints a highly misleading  picture of  Mozart .

    So just who was Antonio Salieri ?   Far from being a non-entity , he was one of the best known and respected composers of the 18th and early 19th century .  He was a prominent composer, conductor and teacher who was a pupil of none other than the great  opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, whose 300 th anniversary comes this year .  He was highly connected within the classical music world  of  his day ,  friend of  the most powerful aristocrats of Europe and  many of the most important composers of his day .  He knew Mozart well and  the two were on good terms .  Does this sound like a  mediocrity ? 

    Salieri was born in the Veneto region of Italy , that is the mainland area of Italy surrounding  Venice ,  and showed  great promise as a composer in his youth .  But he moved to  Vienna and spent  the rest of his life there while making frequent  trips around Europe , and became fluent in German . 

    Salieri was one of the leading opera composers of his day and wrote numerous stage works which were widely performed in his lifetime but which have been completely forgotten until  recent revivals , but  also composed  symphonies, concertos ,  choral works such ass  Masses and  Requiem etc . 

    Somehow , rumors  began to circulate  after Mozart  died in 1791 that he had poisoned him , but there is not one shred of evidence for this absurd accusation .  The film Amadeus portrayed him as being insanely envious of Mozart and obsessed with  his inferiority to his rival , and  shows him as an old man  living in an insane asylum many years later   constantly brooding over Mozart . 

    Interestingly ,  Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov , famous for his exotic orchestral suite "Scheherezade " , wrote a brief one act opera with  small orchestra  called "Mozart and Salieri ".  The two are the only characters apart from a  non-singing or speaking role for a violinist .  Salieri has invited Mozart to his home for dinner ,  and sure enough , by the end , we find that  Salieri has  poisoned  Mozart . The opera has been recorded a few times and you can see it on youtube with  English subtitles .  It's certainly interesting but not at all typical of the other Rimsky-Korsakov operas , which deal with  Russian history and folklore .

     You can also  see and hear recordings of some of Salieri's music  on youtube .  A few years ago, I took out a DVD of  a performance of  Salieri's opera "Falstaff " from my library, based on Shakespeare's  "The Merry Wives of Windsor ".  Verdi's  final opera  "Falstaff ", also based on the play, is of course far better known, and one of the greatest comic operas ever written .

     But I found the Salieri opera highly enjoyable , and would definitely recommend the  DVD , which was filmed at  the opera festival  in Schwetzingen, Germany , which specializes in reviving  obscure operas ,about 20 years ago .  The music is witty and vivacious , not at all the work of  a mediocrity . 

    The renowned Italian mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli  is an enthusiast for Salieri's music and has recorded a number of  arias and  othervocal works by him , and  recordings of his music are no longer  scarce .  So forget  the  movie Amadeus , entertaining as it is,  and give the music of  Antonio Salieri a chance !   You won't regret it .

Posted: May 13 2014, 09:01 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Major Orchestras Issuing Their Own Recordings - A Growing trend .

   The classical recordings industry isn't what it used to be . Gone are the days when the world's leading orchestras used to have recording contracts with such presitgious  classical labels as Deutsche Grammophon , Decca  , EMI Classics , R.C.A . and others and  produced a steady stream of  studio recordings and sometimes ones from  concerts under the world's most eminent conductors . Works ranging from  Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to  20th century repertoire .

   What happened ?  Classical recordings are very expensive to produce , and few of them sell  like the proverbial  hot cakes . Especially expensive in America  for some reason;  it costs less to produce classical recordings in Europe .  In the 1960s , when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic , Leonard Bernstein  made regular studio recordings of works he was conducting live for  what is now Sony Classical records , Columbia records at the time, later CBS records .  Most of these are still available, and still sell  well  by the standards of  classical recordings .

    His successor ,  French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez , now 89 years , continued to make recordings with the orchestra .   The Indian-born Zubin Mehta was next, but  the orchestra lost its contract .  The Philharmonic began to make recordings with  Deutsche Grammophon and then  Teldec records when the German  conductor  Kurt Masur took over ,  but  under  Lorin Maazel, who took over after Masur , the orchestra made exactly one recording ,  a new work by  American composer  John Adams .  And this was a live recording, not a studio one . 

   Now , under Alan Gilbert,  the Philharmonic has begun making live recordings of the six symphonies of the great Danish composer  Carl Nielsen (1865-1931 ) for a  Danish label .   During his more than 40 years with the Philadelphia orchestra ,  the Hungarian-born  Eugene Ormandy made hundreds of recordings of a wide repertoire for  Columbia, R.C.A. and later England's EMI and a couple of other labels ,many of which are still available .

    Other notable  conductor/orchestra/record label  teams  include  George Szell  and the Cleveland orchestra , Fritz Reiner and Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago symphony ,  Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston symphony for R.C.A . ,  Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic ,mostly for Decca ,  William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh symphony ,  and the Hungarian Antal  Dorati with several orchestras in Minneapolis , Washington, D.C. ,  Dallas and   Detroit ,  and so forth .

    Under the dynamic young French Canadian conductor  Yannick Nezet-Seguin ,  Deutsche Grammophon has  believe it or not,  just issued a studio ! recording of Stravinsky's  Rite of Spring for the centennial celebration of this  seminal  work with the Philadelphia orchestra .

    In Europe , Herbert von  Karajan made hundreds of recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led from 1954 to 1989, the year of his death .  No fewer than three sets of the nine Beethoven symphonies for example , plus and earlier one with the Philharmonia orchestra of London, not to be confused with the London Philharmonic .    Most of the Berlin recordings were for  Deutsche Grammophon , and some for EMI . Karajan also made numerous recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic , for  Decca and D.G. .

    The five  orchestras of London  , the London symphony, the Philharmonia , the London Philharmonic , the Royal Philharmonic and the B.B.C. symphony , have long been the most prolific  makers of recordings , under countless different conductors , famous and lesser known .

    These great orchestras still make recordings , but  they have been becoming  ever more scarce, and almost all  are from live concerts , usually with  sessions after concerts to  clean up any mistakes and flubs , which are inevitable live . 

    But within the past ten years or so , a number of leading orchestras have decided to form their own  recording  companies and  issue  recordings of  live performances  on their own .  One of the first was the London symphony orchestra , founded in 1904  as a self-governing  entity , and some of these  have become  classical  best sellers .  The late, great Sir Colin Davis , the L.S.O. chief conductor  at the time led an acclaimed series of live recordings of the music of the great 19th century French composer Hector Berlioz , who music he had long championed .   The L.S.O .  and  Sir Colin had already made renowned recordings of these Berlioz masterpieces years ago for the now defunct  Dutch label  Philips , but these were studio recordings .

    In America , the Chicago , Boston and San Francisco symphonies soon  began issuing their own recordings , under respectively Riccardo Muti, Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink (Chicago ), James Levine (Boston ) and Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco ).  The Atlanta symphony under its current music director Robert Spano has just  released its first recordings on its own label , of Sibelius symphonies, and the Seattle symphony is about to  begin  its own recordings .

    The Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam ,  the leading orchestra of the Netherlands had  made an enromlous number of recordings  for Philips , and a fair number for other labels such as Decca under  numerous distinguished conductors, such as  Willem Mengelberg and Bernard Haitink  , two of the most eminent Dutch conductors , as well  as  the Italian  Riccardo Chailly, who was the first non-Dutch music director of the orchestra , and now under its current head , Latvian maestro  Mariss Jansons , is issuing its own recordings .

   The Berlin Philharmonic , now led by the British maestro  Sir Simon Rattle , has just issued its first  recordings on its own , of the four  symphonies of  Robert Schumann .

    A number of  independent  classical labels such as  the budget label  Naxos ,  Chandos of England , and CPO of Germany , are still issuing  recordings  by a variety of different orchestras , including the  radio orchestras of Germany , which have long enjoyed generous  government support .  Naxos has issued recordings by  the Detroit , Baltimore, Nashville and other U.S. orchestras . (Yes, there is an excellent  symphony orchestra in Nashville, home of Country Western music !) .

    Is this a good trend ?  Will it  increase sales of  orchestral recordings ?  Will more and more orchestras begin to issue their own recordings ?  It's difficult to answer the first two questions , but  the trend seems to be growing , and most likely, more and more orchestras will  become free agents  .  It seems to be an eminently sensible move

Posted: May 12 2014, 09:46 PM by the horn | with no comments
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May 7 - Birthday Of Tchaikovsky And Brahms

   By coincidence ,  Johannes Brahms and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, two icons of  19th century classical music , were born on May 7th, respectively in 1833 and  1840 .  So I thought it might be interesting to compare both composers , who were very different indeed in  their musical  and aesthetic philosophies . 

   Both composers have long been extremely popular,  and the music of both has  caused considerable controversy .  Neither was very fond of the other's music , although they met a number of times and  got along well .  Both produced  beloved staples of the repertoire ; symphonies, concertos, chamber music , songs,  choral works, music for solo piano etc , but unlike Tchaikovsky , Brahms never wrote any operas .

    The music of both composers is  highly melodious and full of  warmth , but  the music of Brahms is  more austere and  restrained .  Tchaikovsky has been accused by more than a few prominent  critics and musicologists of writing cheap , sentimental  and  even vulgar works intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator, although this is anything but a fair accusation .  On the other hand , Brahms has  been accused of writing  dry , grayish and  labored music , lacking in freshness and  sponaneity , also an unfair accusation .

    Tchaikovsky's music probably has more immediate appeal  to  newcomers to classical music ; it is certainly more colorful  and  superficially exciting to the general public .  The supposed "sentimentality" of  Tchaikovsky's music  is probably  the fault of performers who  are guilty of  exaggerating  the  emotional qualities of his works . 

    Brahms wrote four symphonies ; Tchaikovsky six, although only the last three have been  performed often for some reason .  The German wrote two piano concertos, one for vioilin and one for  violin and cello .  Tchaikovsky completed two ; a third exists in torso form and only the first is  played with any frequency ,although the second deserves to be better known .  Tchaikovsky also wrote one violin concerto .

    Brahms also wrote  two concert overtures , The "Tragic" overture, and the "Academic Festival overture" , which uses  popular German university songs . It was written on the occaision of  the composer being awarded an honorary degree from the University of Breslau, formerly in Germany , but now in  Poland .

    Brahms was a strong believer in  "absolute " music, music with no programmatic  story behind it ; pure ,abstract music , but Tchakovsky wrote such well known  programmatic , descriptive works as the symphonic poems  "Romeo & Juliet,"" Francesca D Rimini ", based on  Dante's Inferno ,  and other orchestral works .  Thye programmatic symphony "Manfred " , based on a  poem of Byron , is not numbered among his six symphonies . 

    Tchaikovsky wrote three  ballet scores which  are frequently performed  in excerpt form at concerts,  the  famous "Nutcracker",  "Swan Lake" and  "Sleeping Beauty . "   His mist famous opera is  "Yevgeny Onegin " (Eugene Onegin ) , based on a long poetic drama by Pushkin about a  cynical bachelor who rejects the love of a  naive y0oung woman ,only to realize later  how much he loved her  now that she is married .  Another  remarkable opera is  Pique Dame ,(Queen of Spades ) also based on a story by Pushkin about a  troubled  soldier and  gambler who is obsessed with finding a  magical formula in gambling in order to win the love of a  beautiful , elusive  young woman of the aristocracy   , with disastrous results . 

    Tchaikovsky's other operas , such as  "The Maid of Orleans ", a fictionalized  opera about  Joan of Arc,  and others , are rarely performed outside of  Russia , and not even that often there . 

    The best known choral work by  Brahms is the "German Requiem ", which does not use the traditional Latin  Requiem text , but familiar passages in Martin Luther's German version on death and dying .  Unlike Verdi's  intensely dramatic ,almost operatic Requiem , the German Requiem is a gentle and reflective work , full of  consolation and resignation .

    Brahms was born to humble parents in a lower class section of Hamburg in 1933 ; his father was a  local musician who played the double bass and encouraged his son to  develope his talents as a budding young pianist and composer , and the young man acheived a considerable reputation as a pianist , attracting the attention of  the great Robert Schumann ( 1810-1856 ), who recognized his great talent .  Brahms moved from  dour maritime Hamburg to glamorous, cosmopolitan  Vienna , where he spent the rest of his life .He never married . 

    Tchaikovsky was the son of  a provincial Russian  government official , born in  the town of Votkinsk , far from Moscow and St.Petersburg ; he came from a fairly well off family and also showed  great talent in his youth ,  but Russia  did not as yet have the  developed and sophisticated  musical life of Germany , and he  studied  law ,  well as studying at the recently opened Moscow conservatoire .  He attracted the attention of a very wealthy woman who was the widow of  a  Russian tycoon, Nadezhda von Meck, who admired his music so much she provided him with generous support so he  would not have to seek employment in another field , as his contempraries Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov had done . 

    Curiously ,  the widow  insisted that the two never meet personally , and they never did .  Tchaikovsky was a gay man , which was hardly  acceptable in polite society at the time , and he   reluctantly entered into a brief sham marriage to a young woman who was infatuated with him .  This nearly drove the sensitive and rather neurotic composer to suicide , and the two were soon divorced .

    The death of Tchaikovsky in 1893 under mysterious circumstances 1893 has long been a  subject of discussion and speculation .  Apparently, he drank contaminated water during a cholera epidemic  and  died .  According to some stories, he was ordered to commit suicide by  certain individuals in  the Russian aristocracy because of an  affair with the nephew of  a prominent member of the Tsar's family, but  this has not  been confirmed .   Brahms died of natural causes in Vienna in 1897 , a year after the death of his close friend  Clara Schumann , widow of Robert and a well known pianist and composer in her own wright .  There has been speculation that the two may have been lovers , but this has not been confirmed .

    Tchaikovsky was prone to depression and  was frequently overcome by  homesickness on his frequent trips to  countries such as France, Italy , Germany etc, and visited  America in  1891 , conducting his music at the opening of Carnegie hall .  Brahms had a reputation of being  gruff and  curt with people , and according to one story which may or may not be true , he once left a party in Vienna  offering his apologies to anyone there he had not insulted !

    If you're new to classical music , there is a huge array of recordngs of  the music of these two  great composers available ,  by  so many great  classical musicians , living and dead , as well as plenty of DVDs .  A good place on the internet to get recommendations for these is  classicstoday.com . 

   

   

   

Posted: May 07 2014, 06:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Bizarre Production Of Schumann's Only Opera From Zurich On DVD .

  Lately , I've been seeing  some rarely performed  but interesting operas  on Netflix .  They have a wide variety of  classical  and opera DVDs available ,  so I've been taking advantage of  this .  Among  these are a  rare production of  the only opera by Robert Schumann - "Genoveva " ( hard g as in  gum ) .  It was filmed at  the Zurich   opera several years ago . 

    Schumann (1810 - 1856 ) is best known for his  beloved piano concerto , his four symphonies ,  his many art songs ,  works for solo piano etc, but  he did write one opera , Genoveva ,  which is the story of  a brave medieval German Count and his beautiful young wife  Countess Genoveva .  Count Siegfried must go off to war to fight the   Moors from  Spain who are invading  Europe , and he leaves Genoveva in the care of his  trusted servant Golo in his castle , who is secretly in love with  Genoveva but who dares not reveal this .

    Golo declares his love for her and  makes a brazen pass at her, but she rejects him .  He falsely accuses her of  adultery with another one of  the Count's servants , who is killed by the angry residents of the castle .  Genoveva is  accused ,  and  sentenced to die .  But  Count Siegfried returns  just before she is executed , the plot is revealed and everything ends happily .

    Not a bad subject for an opera , and  Schumann wrote some  beautiful  and stirring music  for it . But for some reason , the opera has had only sporadic revivals  since the mid 19th century .  Many critics and musicologists have dismissed it as hopelessly  ineffective dramatically despite the fine music .   It was not recorded  until the late 1970s , when the distinguished  German conductor  Kurt Masur  led it with the renowned  Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig in the former East Germany , of which he was then chief conductor . 

    Another distinguished conductor , Nikolaus Harnoncourt , best known for his  performances with period instrument orchestras ,made a more recent Digital recording with the Chamber orchestra of Europe , and he leads the Zurcih production .

    But the  production , directed by  one Martin Kusej (  KOO - shay )  is  so perverse  and   grotesquely  inappropriate it  would  have given poor old Robert  heart failure if he could see it .  Not to mention the unit set , which  serves for all the different scenes in the opera .  The costumes  are of  Schumann's time , which is the least  of  the production's  quirks .  This is unfortunately typical of  European opera productions today , which  vie with each other in  trying to be as trendily  perverse as possible . 

    The one set consists of an all white room  with a modern sink !  The characters  frequrently jump on top of it for no apparent reason despite the fact that the action takes place over 1,000 years ago ,long befiore modern plumbing .  Fake blood  frequently appears out of the blue on the white  wall ,  and many of the characters have what looks like soot on their faces for no apparent reason .  Fake blood also comes out of the sink at times . 

     Characters who are not in certain scenes of the opera  stand there in front of the others , even though they are supposed ot be far away at the time .  Does this even make any sense ?   Perhaps the most ludicrous  thing in this  wacky production  is when  an invisible chorus is supposed ot be singing behind the scene , where  the sorceress Margaretha , who is involved in the plot against the hapless Genoveva ,  performs magic for  some reason too complicated to explain here .

     The   phantom chorus is right there in front of the audience , and is dressed up as surgeons !  with  scrubs and  surgeon's masks covering  their faces .   The chorus  takes a bunch of dead fish  !   and swings them around ,  later throwing them in a pile on the floor  .  Genoveva  is nude , with her back to the audience . Sheesh !!!  What got into the mind of the director ?  

     And this is by no means the most  ridiculous  and  bizarre production of  an opera  which has  appeared at European opera houses in our time .   For  nearly 40 years , such  productions have be de rigeur in Europe .  You almost never see a production of an opera set in  the time  of the  original story or with costumes of the period .  The opera may  take place in the middle ages , but  the  cast and chorus  are usually in  modern clothes  as well as the sets . 

    Some productions  at  the Metropolitan opera and other American opera houses  have  updated the  action and costumes to the present day , but  the directors  rarely  go as far  as those in European houses  in  dreaming up bizarre  arbitrary gimmicks .

     But at  least I got a chance to  see  this  rarely performed operatic masterpiece . 

Posted: Apr 28 2014, 10:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 123 rd Birthday to Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953 )

  The great Russian composer  Sergei Prokofiev was born in  the Ukraine to Russian parents  123 years ago today .  His exuberant , witty, melodious and colorful music  has been  beloved all over the world for nearly a century .  Prokofiev showed  great talent as both a pianist and  composer from childhood ,  and he  studied  at the St. Petersburg conservatory with such notable  Russian composers as  Rimsky-Korsakov and  Alexander Glazunov from boyhood to early adulthood .  He then went on to make  quite a name for himself as both a pianist and composer , appearing all over Russia , Europe and America as a pianist ,playing both his own music and that of others  ,spending much of his life  in Europe and  the U.S.A. until he returned to the U.S.S. R . in  1936 , often having to deal with the random displeasure of  Joseph Stalin , a confirmed music lover but  one who made life extremely difficult for leading  Russian composers with his  random displeasure with their music . 

   According to the dreaded Georgian-born tyrant , any music which displeased him was unfit for the Soviet public .  Prokofiev's younger  contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975 ) also suffered  greatly under  Stalin .  One of the weirdest coindcidences in the history of music is that  Prokofiev died on the very same day as Stalin in 1953 !

   Prokofiev composed masterpieces in virtually every musical genre ; works for piano ; sonatas , miscellaneous piano pieces ,  five piano concertos , two for violin , two for cello ,  seven symphonies and other orchestral works ,  operas, ballets ,  oratorios ,  chamber music , etc .

    His music  has  enormous  expressive range ; it can be  witty, sarcastic , playful ,  heroic, tragic ,  fantastical , weird ,  radiantly lyrical , you name it .  But it is  almost  always  very  Russian in feeling  .  Prokofiev's music is  very rich in  memorable  themes ,  his harmonies are  always  pungent  and his orchestration is colofrful and inventive . 

    Among his most famous works are his first symphony , from around  1917 , the so-called "classical " symphony , which  is an  attempt to imitate the style of Mozart & Haydn while  using  20th century harmony ,  the third of his five piano concertos ,  the fifth symphony , the music to  the  famous  Sergei Eisenstein film  "Alexnder Nevsky " adapted for concert performance ,  the familiar  "Peter and the Wolf " ,  the music to  the ballet "Romeo & Juliet " ,  the two concertos for violin  etc .

    The various operas of Prokofiev , which have only been widely performed  in recent years ,  are among the most  fascinating  of the 20th century . They include  the monumental and  very long  "War & Peace  " ,based on the great Tolstoy novel  ,  the zany  farce  "The Love For  Oranges ", based on  an 18th century  Italian  comedy , a sort of operatic Monty Python sketch ,  and the  weird  and profoundly disturbing   "The Fiery Angel ", a  nightmarish story of  obsession  ,black magic and demonic possession in 16th century Germany .

    Other ballet scores include  " Cinderella " , based on the familiar  fairy tale ,  and  "The Stone Flower ", based on  old Russian legends .  Prokofiev  also wrote  sweeping and  powerful music for the  Eisenstein fim  "Ivan The Terrible ," and this was  adapted for concert use after the composer's death . 

    The "Lt.  Kizhe " suite for orchestra comes from the music to the Russian film of the same name about  a 19th century  Tsar who reads a military report inaccurartely and   comes to believe in the existence of a non-existent Lt. Kizhe . However , his militry staff are too  frightenend to tell the mighty Tsar that he has made a mistake and  resort to making up  bogus reports of his  supposed military expolits . When the Tsar asks  to meet the  officer ,  he is told  of his death in battle and a mock funeral is held !  This  film gave Prokofiev a chance to  display  his  musical wit , which he did in many of his works   . 

    Prokofiev's music has been  widely recorded and  given  some of the greatest pianists , violinists , cellists and conductors  of the 20t century to  show their mettle .  Among them pianists  Vladmimir Horowitz ,  Sviatoslav Richter , violinists  Jascha Heifetz ,  David Oistrakh and   Itzhak Perlman , cellist and conductor  Mstiislav  Rostropovich , who was a close  friend of the composer ,  and conductors  Yevgeny Mravinsky,  Eugene Ormandy,  Gennady Rozhdestvensky ,  and Leopold Stokowski , to name only a handful . 

     These recordings and those of many other distinguished  intperpreters of  Prokofiev are easily available  on CD , as well  as  DVDs of the ballets and operas . 

    The music of Prokofiev is both modern and  accessible , and there is so much of it to enjoy .

Posted: Apr 23 2014, 08:01 PM by the horn | with no comments
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